Friday, April 25, 2008

3 day Trinational Convention in Los Angeles

Rafael Feliciano president of the Puerto Rican Teachers federation spoke forcefully in his key note address on April 19th, 2008, the second day of the 8th trinational conference – he stated without equivocation that “a union without militants is a shell of a union.” As a union leader who successfully led an illegal strike earlier this year, Rafael was speaking from experience. Many times over teacher union leaders from throughout North America called for widespread resistance to privatization, standardized testing, free trade agreements and attacks on public education. Instead of providing a blow by blow of the actual conference we at Substance have compiled a list of powerful quotes that will help our readers get a sense of the many powerful voices present at the three day event. Our union brothers and sisters in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and other parts of the U.S are notable in their ability to confront and defeat those who would dismantle our schools. Hopefully we in Chicago can learn from their example.

“We need to talk about something, not just against something” – Salaam, delegate from New Orleans on the destruction of virtually all the public schools and the teacher’s union in his home town.

They’re trying to define everything as private, one of our jobs is to expand the definition of what is public.” “People used to think that voting was political power, they are now finding out it was just influence.” -- Peter Brown; a machine shop teacher in the Oakland community college system which are about to become inundated with a wave of charter drones.

There is really the potential for an international teachers movement that could be a model for unions elsewhere.” – Lois Weiner who runs the website

“I was hoping we could work towards a general strike next May 1st” – Jenn Laskin, teacher in Watsonville, California.

“Teachers around the country and alot of the population want NCLB ended.” Quoted from a New York City teacher who mentioned that their union president, (and the likely future president of the AFT) Randi Weingarten, had initially supported NCLB, but once she went out campaigning for Hilary Clinton realized that people around the country hated the unfunded mandate. Weingarten, sensing a political opportunity quickly announced her opposition to the law.

“The test is the justification of privatization and without stopping the test its almost impossible to stop the charters” -- “NCLB is so bad, one advantage is that it unites us.” – Rafael Feliciano – president of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation.

“As a union we don’t only see our role as protecting our members, but in protecting the services and education for each of our students.” – Domenic Bellissimo – teacher at CUNY, New York City.

“We’ve boycotted producing the test and now voted to not administer them” Irene Lanzinger, president of the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation – a teachers union that has successfully boycotted marking standardized tests and sees the tests as the first stage of privatization. The believe that teachers and students will be judged inadequate by low test scores which are an arbitrary measure produced by the business community who use the data to “reform” education to match their interests.

Steve Miller – Teacher in the Oakland School District
”The U.S was the first country in the world to establish public education and is moving to be the first country in the world to end public education.”

”For the last fifty years, public education was one of only two public mandates guaranteed by the government that was accessible to every person, regardless of income. Social Security is the other. Now both systems are threatened with privatization schemes. The government today openly defines its mission as protecting the rights of corporations above everything. Thus public education is a rare public space that is under attack”

“In LA its greendot in Chicago its corporate insanity”

“95 per cent of union work needs to be done by volunteers otherwise you become a business.”

“The Union is the only vehicle they have to act as a collective and bring about change.” – Jinny Sims, former president of the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation.

Participants at the conference agreed that on October 5th, International Teachers’ Day, all three countries would coordinate a day of action against high stakes testing. Also on May 1st, 2009, we also agreed to plan a protest against the war in Iraq and how a war budget leaves every child behind.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Teacher's Unite

The House of Delegates meeting tonight, April 2nd, was nothing short of a disaster. But its through the cracks that the light gets in. For the first time in my recent memory the UPC'ers on stage looked like sitting ducks, with no message of hope or cogent answers to our doubts -- simply blank stares and garbled outbursts of choreographed cheers. Its time to look past the lack of vision or strategy in the current leadership and start developing our own, instead of depending on a disorganized and myopic group to realize it for themselves. Perhaps by taking more personal responsibility teachers can actually shape the policies of the organization that supposedly represents them, we've been dormant for far too long.